One of largest illegal dumps unearthed to date in Louth

Council officials discover pits filled with unlawfully dumped waste beside water source

Part of the site of the illegal dumping near Knockbridge village in Co Louth. Photograph: Peter Murtagh/The Irish Times

Part of the site of the illegal dumping near Knockbridge village in Co Louth. Photograph: Peter Murtagh/The Irish Times

 

There’s a Louth County Council sign between Brodigan’s supermarket in Knockbridge village and the Halla Wolfe Tone diagonally opposite.

“No Littering”, it implores; maximum fine €1,900. “Litter Louts – Don’t Litter Louth.”

Some distance away, council officials have been unearthing one of the largest illegal dumps found in the county to date – two separate subterranean piles of approximately 600 tonnes and 1,000 tonnes each – concealed from the public road by a large cluster of agri-industrial structures.

When The Irish Times visited the scene yesterday, workmen apparently connected to what goes on there (as opposed to local government officials) showed little enthusiasm for exchanging pleasantries with a stranger. A pile of burning rubber spewed gray-black smoke into the sky from behind a wall of old metal containers.

In the locality generally, people embraced the sanctuary of ignorance – genuine or feigned – and chose to remain silent.

“You wouldn’t talk to anyone on the record about this,” said one man. “You’d get a visit.”

In a part of the country notorious for outlaw activity and a blurring of gangsterism and paramilitarism, locals have become somewhat inured to certain enterprises – smuggling, fuel laundering and the transit of spectacularly large quantities of cigarettes, for instance.

But in recent times, arc lamps lighting the night sky behind the cluster of sheds and diggers not seemingly engaged in conventional farming activity attracted attention and the council was alerted.

“I have been getting phone calls in relation to terrible smells,” local Fianna Fáil TD Declan Breathnach said yesterday. When officials visited, it is understood they found pits being filled with illegally disposed-of municipal household waste and other organic material – “which probably accounts for the pungent odours complained of by local residents,” said Mr Breathnach.

Drinking water

The site of the dumping is on one side of the Fane river valley, the main source of drinking water for Dundalk (population 38,000). Water is taken from it by a pumping station beside a bridge on the R171 road to Tallanstown.

From the extraction site, which is about 1km upstream from the illegal dumping, the water is pumped about 4km to Cavan Hill treatment plant, built in 1990 and handling about 25,000 cubic meters a day, about half its capacity, where it is made safe for drinking.

Workers there said there was no danger to the purity of the water supply and a council statement also sought to reassure consumers.

“Enforcement action under the Waste Management Acts has been initiated by the council in respect of a premises located in the River Fane catchment,” it said. “Investigations carried out do not indicate any immediate risk to water quality in the river.”

Chicken farms

This is not the first illegal dump in the area. Another substantial one was found two years ago and a local men has been charged with allowing his lands to be used for illegal dumping. That dump contained, among other things, the detritus of chicken farms, believed to have originated in Co Monaghan.

Any presumption that persistent illegal dumping smells of paramilitary enterprise was counselled against by one local source who requested anonymity.

“There are full-time crooks here just exploiting the [Border] location to make money and are not necessarily politically connected,” said the source. Nonetheless, one had to be careful, he said. “There are families that, let me just say, are different to the rest of us.”